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TriMet unveils the first move toward transitioning the agency's entire fleet of diesel buses to electric by 2040

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Riders board an electric bus for a first ride to the Sunset Transit Station during an unveiling ceremony at Trimets Merlo Garage facility in Beaverton on Tuesday. On Tuesday, TriMet unveiled what the agency says may be the first bus of its kind to be used by the transit industry in the U.S.

The zero-emissions electric bus will go into service today (Wednesday), serving passengers on the 62 Murray Boulevard line, a 13-mile route that runs seven days a week between the Sunset Transit Center and Washington Square.

The 40-foot-long, 40-seat electric bus will offer a quieter ride for passengers along with a 94-metric ton reduction in greenhouse gases per year. TriMet estimates it will save approximately $125,000 per year in maintenance costs and $400,000 annually in fueling costs compared with a diesel vehicle. The bus can travel up to 80 miles per charge, dependent on weather and traffic conditions.

PMG PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey (left) and Maria Pope, president and CEO of Portland General Electric spoke during an unveiling ceremony of new electric buses at Trimets Merlo Garage facility on Tuesday.The zero-emissions electric bus is the first step in what TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey said will be an eventual replacement of the agency's entire fleet of diesel buses with zero-emission vehicles by 2040, at the latest.

The transit agency is touting the new fleet addition as being "powered by wind." TriMet will purchase renewable wind tax credits the Clean Wind program offered by project partner Portland General Electric's for electric vehicle chargers that have been installed at the Merlo garage and Sunset Transit Center.

TriMet's Merlo garage features a four-hour, slower charger. The Sunset Transit Center charger offers quick-turnaround charges that take approximately 15 minutes, the same amount of time as a driver's break period. The faster charge will allow the bus to top of its batteries after each 26-mile trip to and from Washington Square Transit Center.

"We're testing (both) to determine the most effective and efficient (method)," Kelsey told a crowd gathered Tuesday morning to watch one of the electric buses being charged.

TriMet originally planned to start with four electric buses using a $3.4 million Low and No Emission, or Low-No, Vehicle Deployment program grant from the Federal Transit Administration. A partnership with Portland General Electric allowed the transit agency to purchase a fifth. In August, TriMet received a second Low-No grant for five more buses, which will bring the initial electric fleet to 10 vehicles.

The agency also plans to add as many as 80 electric buses over the next five or six years, using $34 million from the Keep Oregon Moving Act, which the Oregon Legislature passed in 2017.

The initial electric vehicle fleet will be used for lines that run through low-income and minority neighborhoods, TriMet said. Meredith Connolly, director of Climate Solutions Oregon, applauded the PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey (right) unveils a new electric bus at Trimets Merlo Garage facility in Beaverton on Tuesday. move to include eastside communities in that plan.

TriMet's first electric bus is the result of modifications made to a Flyer Excelsior CHARGE zero-emissions model. The transportation agency will spend the next five years testing the electric buses, gathering information about how the vehicles function on hilly terrain and under varying weather and traffic conditions. The information will be used to help the agency evaluate whether to continue on the electric bus path or take a closer look at alternatives that could include hydrogen or renewable natural gas.

Even as TriMet touts the first electric bus in its fleet, Kelsey said there are still some sizeable challenges that will need to be tackled as the agency moves toward the new technology.

Technicians adept at working on diesel engines need to be trained on the electric system. There's also a large amount of physical infrastructure that needs to be set in place to set up charging stations. In addition, TriMet will need to find additional money to pay for a full system.

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